Perceived Flaws and Self - Acceptance

My headshot photography studio is in Lancaster, PA, home of the Amish. I know it sounds like a terrible business model, or some sort of joke: A portrait photographer in an area where they don’t have their pictures taken. Regardless of how incongruous it sounds, I do a fair amount of business.

Recently, I had the opportunity to shoot headshots for a construction company. They aren’t the typical construction firm though. They literally build barns and sheds.

Most, if not all of the leadership for this firm are former Amish. They had never had a photo taken of themselves until they left their old way of life. In fact, the President of the company even remarked that they don't have any photos of their childhood.  

One might think that coaching and directing them would be easy. There are no bad habits to UN-learn. Suffice it to say, coaching them proved to be a challenge, but at least I didn’t have to deal with any self-acceptance issues. These folks were just happy to be who they are.

Most of them had at least one lazy eye. Others had heavy lids, or scars on their faces. Yet, they didn’t lend it any thought. They didn’t seem to think or even care about how others view them. They were certainly aware that they had eye differences and scars, but they are rolling with whatever they are blessed with. How cool is that? Despite knowing about these things, they just went about their daily lives. It is highly probable that they were raised to care less about their appearance and more about their family, and community.

Was it an ignorance is bliss kind of thing? In truth, it could very well be that they acknowledge these things, and are inwardly concerned about them. However, I spent a bit of time with each person. None of them gave me any indication that they even cared about a lazy eye, or facial scarring, or any other physical feature.

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Recently, an Instagram “troll” made a comment on a headshot, saying that the image reminded him of being hungover every day. I looked at the image, and inwardly questioned whether they were referring to the eye difference.

How can one human being poke fun at another person for something outside of their control? And why did they feel it was necessary to make such a comment? Clearly it was self serving. But, what matters most is that the subject of that headshot has accepted whatever MIGHT have been considered a perceived flaw.

As a headshot photographer, I recognize that I have the power to change how a person feels about themselves. This was never more apparent to me than it is today, especially in light of this recent experience. It is very powerful. It is difficult to believe, but I can change how someone thinks about themselves and how they view themselves by coaching and directing them into an incredible image.

Society has jaded us!  We have become hyper-critical of our appearance. Advertisements would have us believe that true beauty is being rail thin, or having perfectly straight hair, or some other unrealistic standard.  We degrade ourselves and kill ourselves over not measuring up. We obsess over everything: from diet, to hitting the gym like maniacs, and we sometimes even seek surgical solutions.  

Here is the reality:  EVERYONE is beautiful, EVERYONE is interesting and unique, and EVERYONE will have a tendency to critique themselves, thinking that society will embrace them differently if only...  

Had my client expressed concern about his lazy eye and heavy lids, I would have taken him through my schpiel on owning his looks, because he doesn’t have much of a choice.  Our parents blessed us with certain physical characteristics, and we have to wake up each day and OWN THEM.

Sometimes it takes a reminder, THIS kind of reminder, to make photographers see that we aren’t just making images for professionals because they need to do business. Maybe what we do is more therapeutic than that. Maybe it’s all encompassing. Maybe people come in with the idea of getting their stale headshot refreshed or making an image for branding purposes, but come away learning something and appreciating themselves more than ever before.

If that is the effect I have on my clients, then I have done something right!

This experience reminded me of a TedX talk that Peter Hurley and Anna Rowley gave about bridging the self-acceptance gap. The first time I had seen this video, I was with Peter in the back of a New York City Taxi, watching it on Peter’s cell phone before its official release. I was deeply moved then. I’m deeply moved today.